Digital music technology has given modern music producers what seems to be an unfair advantage over their yesteryear peers.
When you consider the tinkering and trouble audio looping pioneers like Pierre Schaeffer and Terry Riley had to go through to record their tape loops, using looping devices like the Boss RC-505 really must feel like cheating.
After studying the RC-505 tabletop loop station and finding how ridiculously easy (and fun) it makes creating loops for beatboxers and vocalists in particular, I have a newfound respect for Schaeffer and Riley’s hustles.
What would these early music innovators make of this loop station?
That question echoed in my mind as I sat down to review this king of looping devices.
And after battling to condense all of the Boss RC-505’s features in this guide, I feel Terry Riley & co would be thoroughly impressed.
Let’s start by getting everyone on the same page.
What is a Tabletop Loop Station?
We will delve into the nitty gritty of this loop station in a moment. First, let’s discuss a little about what a looper is.
Perhaps you are just getting into music production and you are still feeling your way around all the equipment you will need. We have a great guide to getting started with making beats for just $300 here.
At their most basic, audio looping devices simply record what you play, and play it back for you an infinite number of times. They are digital audio recording devices with a handy continuous playback capability.
A tabletop looper is one that you place on a table and control with your hands, which contrasts with a pedal looper (aka stomp box) that you have to place on the floor and operate with your feet.
Of course, the Boss RC-505 isn’t basic at all. It is so much more than just a standard looper!
Actually, there are many benefits to using looping devices like the Boss RC-505, as the many people who use them will attest.
But, personally, I just can’t get over the convenience and creative possibilities of the thing.
Well, enough generalizing, this is a review on the Boss RC-515, after all. Let’s now take the looping station apart and explore all its different features.
What Makes the Boss RC-505 the Best Tabletop Loop Station for Beatboxers and Vocalists?
The Boss brand, which is owned by Japanese digital instruments titan, Roland, has been making pedal loopers for a while now.
And, as with their other digital instruments, their pedal loopers have a wide appeal. Hitmaker Ed Sheeran, who sold out Wembley stadium in London performing with just his looper and guitar, trusts the Boss RC-30 for his live gigs.
KT Tunstall has been known to do some pretty epic live looping too.
But pedal loopers do require a bit of practice (and some nimble footwork) to use them productively. They also suit guitarists over other musicians.
Noting this, the company went out and produced its first tabletop loop station, the Boss RC-505.
This loop station introduced some fabulous new features that music makers from across the board instantly fell in love with.
The Boss RC-505 is Thoughtfully Designed, With an Intuitive Interface
First off, the Boss RC-505 is designed for hand control and sits on a desktop, which is perfect for beatboxers, vocalists, and studio producers especially.
Before talking about all the other features, let’s talk about the looper’s stand out feature, which is the five independent tracks it supports. Here too is where that thoughtful design I mentioned above is brought to bear.
- Each of the five tracks has its own mini control panel with separate controls. These five tracks occupy the lower half of the control panel.
- On each of the five loop channels is a large push button through which you can execute the basic loop and playback as well as the imminently useful overdub functions.
- The top half of the control panel is populated by the non-track specific controls. These surround the 16 character backlit LCD display. Up there is where you also find the effects controls.
Let’s stay with those five independent tracks for now.
Unlimited Overdub Functionality Means You Can Layer Additional Tracks over Each Phrase Loop
To go with the dedicated controls for each track are independent volume faders as well as the stop and edit buttons.
The channels, which are all stereo, can be played simultaneously. The range of creative possibilities that feature alone opens up is huge.
To put it into perspective, consider recording five loops over base rhythms and overdubbing each of them any number of times. Not to mention the large selection of effects that help to enhance your tracks.
Now go on and play all five different tracks together. Just how complex will the resulting track sound?
The actual looping operation itself is extremely easy, even for novice users.
An Intuitive Interface Makes it Easy to Record Your Loops
To record the loop, simply press the round record/play button. You will tell the device is now in record mode by a red LED light that will light up around the button.
Press the button again to loop the track and start the overdub. A yellow LED light will show you are now overdubbing.
Notice that the overdub function will automatically put that first loop into playback mode, which implies that you are now recording over it. The green button signals the track is in playback mode.
Another press of the button, and voila, you have created your first layered loop. That third press will stop the recording. It is that easy.
If that track does not quite hit the spot for you, you can easily delete it by pressing the undo/redo button on the track. Another press of the same button will restore it.
Oh, and you don’t have to wait long after switching on the looper before you can start looping. The device’s operating system takes a short 12 seconds to load, allowing you to capture beat ideas in the moment.
Compare that with your DAW that can take forever to load while the computer boots up.
But here is the fun part:
You can leave that first loop in playback mode while you proceed to create another one on track 2. Or, you can assign it to memory.
The RC-505 allows you to record 5-track stereo phrases of up to 3 hours long before you have to free up some space. It is the only phrase looper that comes with that much onboard storage.
But even after filling up all the 99 phrase memory slots available, there is still no need to panic:
A High Speed USB Port Enables Connection to a PC and Expands Your Storage
The RC-505 is seriously addictive. But it will take you a while before all the memory slots are filled.
But even if you exhaust the onboard memory, and thanks to the USB connection, you can transfer your loops as WAV files to your PC. That will free up space for more loops.
The option to offload your loop library onto your computer’s hard drive really sets this loop station apart.
But perhaps even better is the ability to record straight into your DAW software through the same USB connection.
If you have beats you have sitting in your computer - which you may want to use as base rhythms for your loops - that too is possible. The RC-505 allows you to import sounds directly from your computer.
Another welcome benefit of the USB connectivity is, since the RC-505 is recognized as a storage device by your computer, you can edit and save the WAV files sitting in its 3.62GB memory directly from your computer.
Handy Tools for Practice and Laying Down Song Ideas
You will love the fact the RC-505 does not come as a blank canvass.
The loop station comes with 85 preloaded drum sets, as well as 5 sample rhythm tracks to accompany your loops during recording.
All the preset rhythms on the RC-505 come in 17 different time signatures, ideally suited to those who like to count down beats to help with their accuracy while recording loops.
The metronome-like rhythm part has scope to be routed to the headphone output only, which greatly improves your recording accuracy.
Another attractive feature is the aux input that allows you to connect an external stereo device so you can play music from your own library through the RC-505. This is very convenient, especially when practicing your solo sets.
Again, to aid your learning efforts, there is a tempo control button that you can use to slow the music down when learning a new song. The looper automatically sets the tempo if you don’t do it manually yourself.
Track Sync and 25 Different Effects Balances and Enriches Your Sound in Fabulously Fun Ways
One thing you will quickly notice about the Boss RC-505 is, even after using it a while, there will be things about it you will still be discovering.
The stuff the looper allows you to do to color and make your loops really pop is astounding.
I find track sync, where the loop station will sync all subsequent tracks to play in tune with the loop you record on the first track, to be very useful.
You also have a choice to disable the auto sync feature. But I bet that is something you will only consider when you are more confident using the looper.
However, what will really make your loops pop are the 25 different onboard effects. You can apply to your loops as you record them and on playback as well.
There are different ones for the input FX and track FX. But you can use up to three effects simultaneously on both input FX and track FX sections.
The effects range from the usual distortion and reverb, as well as others that color your voice input in very interesting ways.
Speaking of input...
A USB Driver Transforms the RC-505 into an Audio Interface and MIDI Controller
The Boss RC-505 spots several simultaneous ¼” inputs, four of which are analog. These allow you to connect and mix in different instruments like your guitar and synthesizer.
There is also an XLR microphone jack, and an aux mini jack you can use to hook up stereo devices like your smartphone or MP3 player.
There are also two ¼” audio outputs to connect your monitors and headphone jack.
To go with analog inputs are MIDI In/Out and a USB port that supports both audio and data transfer between the looping device and your computer. This enables you to harness the creative power of music software through your laptop during live performances or audio recordings.
About that XLR microphone jack:
You will need power for the XLR microphone.
Well, no stressing over that. The RC-505 comes with phantom power, which you can enable from the system menu.
Let’s stay on the RC-505 rear panel:
A ¼ Footswitch/Expression Pedal Jack Frees the Hands for Guitarists and Other Instrument Players
Guitarists love their pedal loopers.
Pedal loopers, in fact, are perfect for anyone who plays an instrument with their hands as most of the controls can be executed with one’s feet.
The RC-505 on the other hand is really made primarily for hand operation.
Though well-made, it just isn’t rugged enough to be operated with your feet, which is why a ¼” footswitch/expression jack is provided.
You will wish you could do more with the footswitch/expression pedal.
Some of those concerns were addressed with the version 2.0 update that introduced customized real-time looping controls.
You can now specify 16 different control functions that are stored with your phrase memories, which also allows you to create custom setups for different songs and performance situations.
The 16 control functions can be accessed from either the main front panel control or via MIDI. But, more importantly, most are specially designed for and can be accessed through the footswitch or expression pedals.
Guitarists no longer need to designate just one of the five tracks for footswitch control. You can now assign all, or any one of the five tracks if you so wish.
All of this says a lot about the depth of the Boss RC-505’s features.
That brings me to the question...
What Would Make the Boss RC-505 the Perfect Tabletop Loop Station?
Guitarists would love to have more footswitch jacks. That would give them greater pedal control of the device, freeing their hands to concentrate on their primary instrument.
Perhaps the version 2.0 update did not go far enough to accommodate their concerns.
I also read a few reviewers say the looper is too light, which doesn’t seem like a fair criticism.
People make the mistake of comparing the RC-505 with pedal loopers, which are heavier as they need to be sturdier to handle the considerable force exerted by your feet.
The RC-505 is intentionally designed to be bigger but significantly lighter than standard pedal loopers because a wider interface is more user-friendly for a tabletop looper.
That goes well with the tactile buttons, as well as knobs and sliders that are just the right size and perfectly are spaced for easier hand control.
The unit is not as heavy as pedal loopers because it is made entirely of plastic. But you would be wrong if you thought that makes it easy to knock off the table. This is thanks to small rubber feet that allows it grip the tabletop and not slide off as you may think.
What is The Verdict?
There is a lot to appreciate about the Boss RC-505.
It is such a well-made piece of equipment that professional musicians and producers will have no trouble adding it to their rigs.
And, though there is a lot to learn before you can use it to its full potential, even learner musicians and hobbyists will find it to be a ton of fun straight out of the box.
Previously, most looping devices were pedal loopers that favored guitarists.
The RC-505 was the first tabletop looper that also catered to beatboxers, vocalists, and other music producers. Besides that, the RC-505 has the best features of any looper on the market, not least the five track functionality.
Curiously though, since the version 2.0 firmware update that introduced greater foot control through MIDI, the Boss RC-505 has become the best looper on the market for guitarist, too.
Even with the 32 different knobs, buttons, and faders, the device’s interface is simple and easy to use. The looper’s quality is validated by the impressive 5-star average reviews it has garnered on Amazon.
This is a powerful looping device that will open your sound up to wonderful new possibilities, whether you are performing live or recording in the studio.
There is nothing else like it on the market. This left one reviewer with the observation that if you can’t get it done with the Boss RC-505 maybe you should just give it up for another hobby or pastime.
I say anybody can more than get it done. The Boss RC-505 is hours of fun at a time.